When Cameron James decided to move from brewing back into hospo, it wasn’t to run one more mainstream place with patterned carpet, the cacophonous dings and whoops of pokie machines, and screens all showing different sports. It was to showcase 14 taps of independent beer and street food from around the globe, all packaged into a gorgeous old pub.
“I like the old school ones,” he says.
There’s 150 years of history in the building that now houses Travellers Brewhouse. It was the former Pyrmont Bridge Road Hotel, one of the first pubs in the area to serve as a watering hole for settlers, and has since also been an Italian restaurant, a nautical themed cocktail bar, and a house of ill repute.
"One day, I just happened to be sitting outside, and one of the ex-employees was walking by and she told us all about it! ‘This is open again? I used to be an escort here when it was a high class brothel.’
“She told us all about what happened. That was something I won’t forget.”
As Cameron renovated the venue before opening, he made sure to keep something of an old world feel to the place, with timber booths in the bistro, a bar made of Tasmanian oak, and a couple of hand pumps imported from the UK. But Travellers Brewhouse uses that old vibe to do something new; it’s dedicated to that feeling of travelling the globe, discovering new flavours, and meeting new people.
The street food menu was born of Cameron’s love of backpacking, bringing in items like pork skewers with peanut sauce and Thai cucumber relish; prawn with coconut, chilli, lime and cashew served on a betel leaf; spicy Spanish chorizo salad with squid and a zesty dressing; or for something more familiar, a Philly cheesesteak with fries.
“It's the kind of food you try when travelling - BBQ'd by the beach, or a mobile cart being pushed through the streets of Bangkok or a hole-in-the-wall Parrilla in Argentina.
“I got a bit jaded with going to these nice pubs, and they’re all doing the same four things on their menus - fish and chips, burgers, schnitty, bangers and mash. People like them, but I got so bored with it.”
The constantly changing menu also keeps things interesting for the chef.
“She’s Thai background, so that kind of food is second nature. But she also does Mexican stuff, Croatian things - she balances flavours so well.”
In contrast to the globetrotting food menu, the beers are all local. Cameron was co-founder and head brewer at Southern Highlands Brewing, and brings both his love of good beer and a bunch of friendships with other breweries that he wants to support. And with 14 taps, there’s plenty of scope for variety of style and flavour.
“No rules around what we’re going to put on. As long as it’s from an independent brewery - Australian-owned, relatively local to the east coast. Don’t want to put too much mileage on the beers that come to us.
“Definitely won’t see any of the big boys on our taps.”
While he misses brewing, Cameron’s excited being back in hospo and getting to be on the frontline with customers, introducing people to new flavours in both food and beer.
"A German guy came in last night, and the first thing he wanted was a pilsner. I said, ‘We don’t have a pils, but try this lager.’ By the end of the night he was drinking a mandarin IPA!”
This kind of exploring new flavours is what Travellers Brewhouse is all about, making the venue a welcome addition to our Beer Slingers series.
Who’s involved in the business?
Cameron James - Owner
Kirsty McGregor - General manager
Faan - Head chef
What are your backgrounds?
CJ: Head brewer and co-founder @ Southern Highlands Brewing
KM: Pub manager and also taphouse manager for Southern Highlands Brewing
Faan: Thai chef.
What first got you into craft beer?
I was gifted a home brew kit in 1992. I was really getting sick of the generic offerings pubs had in the late 80s/early 90s, and back then I sought out different beers. Once I tasted my first American pale ale by another home brewer, I was on a proper mission!
What inspired you to open your venue?
I’ve travelled a lot and always enjoy the local street food and local beers. I wanted to open a venue that’s different from most pubs. Something that does international street food, rotating regularly - and not just one country's foods, but something from a lot of different places. Combine that with Australian-owned independent breweries and no pokies, TAB or American sports on TV. Somewhere you can try quality offerings at a fair price.
What’s the story behind the name of the venue?
It's about travelling and trying the different foods and beers that are out there, instead of being stuck with the same old bland mass market lagers and choosing between schnitzels, fish and chips or bangers and mash.
How would you describe the vibe of your venue?
Old school. Looks old and is a bit bashed up with friendly staff that have great chat. Big selection of beers including two nitro taps and two hand pumps. The music is background and classics.
Is there anything you’ve learned along the way you wish you’d known earlier?
Offers of help are mostly empty promises.
Have there been any standout moments in your time as a venue owner?
A hundred and twenty people busting through the doors at the same time on a Wednesday in our first week, while I was training a newbie. They’d been at a travel agent’s Christmas party or conference - the newbie sure learned quickly!
What local breweries are impressing you most right now?
Southern Highlands Brewing, Jervis Bay, Flamin Galah, Akasha, Sauce, Grifter and Six String.
How did you go about deciding your tap offering?
We try to rotate breweries regularly whilst maintaining the spectrum of beers. We'll always endeavour to have a porter, sour, APA, IPA, lager and a hazy. We'll keep more darker beers during the cooler months.
You’ve got three beers to turn a newcomer onto craft beer: what are they and why?
First beer is our house Premium Lager [from Sauce], or similar. Then get them to try the Six String Tropical Pale Ale and also the Southern Highlands Brewing Porter. So many people are shocked how nice that porter is on nitro. They expect a harsh, bitter black beer they remember as a youngster. Otherwise, they've had an IPA as their first craft beer and were overwhelmed, understandably. It's my job to get them to try again.
Travellers Brewhouse is on the corner at 11A Pyrmont Bridge Rd, Pyrmont. Beer travellers can find it alongside hundreds of other good beer venues and breweries across Australia on the free Crafty Pint app.